Entertaining customers through conversation and hospitality has long been a part of Japan’s nightlife. These types of establishments are still available today, known as host and hostess clubs. So what are they and can foreigners visit or work in them?
Table of Contents
- Japan’s Nightlife
- What is a Host or Hostess Club?
- What does it take to be a Host or Hostess?
Hard work in Japan often comes hand in hand with celebrating with drinking after a long day or after reaching a particularly important milestone in careers. This is evident in the nomikai culture or the abundance of drinking parties - even work-related ones, usually to celebrate work-related milestones such as fulfilling a big company project, welcome new hires into the organization, or have a send-off party for senior level members who will retire from the company. The nomikai culture is intended to be a bonding session for employees outside the workplace.
Because of these types of celebrations, it has had a ripple effect on the Japanese nightlife industry as establishments where large groups can gather and drink are countless. Along with that came other forms of nightlife entertainment - including host and hostess clubs and bars.
Maybe you’ve heard of the term “host club” from 桜蘭高校ホスト部 or Ouran High School Host Club, arguably the most famous anime with host club in its title. Or perhaps you’ve seen the hostess clubs that characters frequent in films and dramas about yakuza or businessmen, or even featuring the hostesses as the main characters. But sometimes because of these portrayals in the media, people often have misconceptions of what these establishments really are.
Essentially, host clubs and hostess clubs are places where people go to drink and be lavished with attention from beautiful men and women.
The hostess’s primary responsibility is to entertain their guests. Their usual activities include serving and pouring drinks as they talk with the customer, engaging in fun, flirtatious conversation and making sure that the customer has a good time, whether that means doing exciting things like playing games or singing to help take their mind off of work or to be a listening ear to their troubles. Sometimes groups of men will visit a hostess club as an extension of a nomikai. Some men even go and discuss business with coworkers and business partners in the midst of the hostesses’ company.
It is also important to note that these entertaining activities are not sexual in nature and Japan has very strict laws against these types of behaviors and establishments. Touching the hostess is not allowed and even making lewd comments may lead to being asked to leave (and/or thrown out and banned by security) - unless of course initiated by the hostess herself.
There are different types of hostess clubs, but in English, they tend to all be translated into "hostess clubs." Here's a short explanation of the difference.
Hostess clubs, also referred to as clubs, are the top tier of this type of establishment. They are usually 永久指名制 (eikyu shimei sei) which means that once you request a particular hostess, you can't change to a different person, no matter how many times you go. These establishments are usually members-only, so you have to be a member or go with someone who's a member, and are much more expensive so the members tend to be rich businessmen. The hostess you request will be accompanied by other women, so you are rarely one-on-one.
Kyabakura, short for cabaret clubs, is often also translated to hostess clubs in English. While the type of establishment is the same - women in beautiful dresses entertaining guests through conversation and drinks - in kyabakura, guests and women talk one-on-one (whereas hostess clubs are conversations in groups) and the clientele tends to be more varied in age and background than a hostess club. It is also cheaper than a hostess club. But for the purpose of this article, we will discuss them together as “hostess clubs”.
There are more types of these establishments including "lounges" which are more frequented by celebrities, and casual versions like “snack bars”, “girls bars” and such.
Hosts are the male equivalent of hostesses and are male entertainers where females pay for their company, although they are usually not visited after work nomikais with coworkers like hostess clubs might be. The roles and responsibilities of hosts are not too different from their female counterparts. Their primary responsibility is to entertain their female guests through pouring them drinks, showering them with compliments, and basically becoming your boyfriend for the night. It's a romantic experience for some, while others see it as similar to meeting an idol.
The same rules apply to hosts - these activities are strictly non-sexual and forms of entertainment only. They are also 永久指名制 (eikyu shimei sei), which means once you choose a host, you can't change to a different person. In turn, that host will text you and make it feel like you're dating. The clientele in host clubs are widely varied in both age and background.
Note: This goes for hostess clubs as well but please remember that it's a pseudo-relationship. There is a monetary exchange happening, and there's incentive to get customers to pay more. There have been stories of hosts pressuring customers to come more often, pay for more things, and help raise their rank in the club, leading to women who are forced to become a part of the industry themselves to pay back the bills they racked up. (There are also similar stories about hostesses, ending up with bankrupt and/or debt-ridden customers.) Customers should see it as entertainment and set clear boundaries.
Yes, but it’s important to do your research. Not all host and hostess clubs will allow foreigners on their own to visit especially if you don’t speak Japanese - after all, communication is a key part of the experience. And these establishments are usually looking for customers who will come back - and that doesn’t usually apply with tourists. There are exceptions of course but more research has to be done - not only to get in but to make sure that it’s reputable and you won’t be scammed. However, if you go with Japanese coworkers or friends, it would be much smoother to get in.
As for English speakers, these establishments may have hosts or hostesses who speak English if they’re in larger cities like Tokyo or Osaka - but as tourists and foreigners are not the main target group of these businesses, that’s not always the case. It doesn’t hurt to ask before you enter, though.
Keep in mind that these establishments are expensive!
The cost includes
a flat entrance fee or table charge which can also be charged hourly
a service fee
additional fees for ordering drinks and food and for requesting a particular host or hostess
Usually some of these fees are waived or highly discounted for first time guests (expect to pay around 5,000 to 10,000 yen), but you could easily be spending an average of at least 20,000 yen and more (most likely more) per visit after your first, of course depending on the establishment and its fees.
Don’t get caught not having enough money to pay. Thus it’s important to know which places won’t purposely scam you (called bottakuri) to get you to pay more in addition to an already expensive bill. Have an idea of what each part of the experience will cost before heading in.
The number of host and hostess clubs in Japan is vast.
Host clubs and hostess clubs are usually only found in highly populated cities, whereas you can find the more casual versions - snack bars, girls bars, etc. - almost anywhere.
In Tokyo, Ginza and Roppongi are the top tier places for hostess clubs, while Kabukicho in Shinjuku as well as Ikebukuro are the most famous areas to have host clubs.
Other places in Japan that have both include
the Minami district of Namba, Osaka
the Susukino district in Sapporo, Hokkaido
the Nakasu area in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka
Each city has their own “vibe” and way of doing things, so it’s best to go with someone who knows what it’s like. Also note that many are in red-light districts, so it's very important to be able to distinguish between establishments.
A host or hostess's typical job description in Japan would be to ensure that guests are accommodated and comfortable. They make sure the guests feel that they are in a safe environment, are efficient in their services, and provide excellent customer service by engaging in casual and friendly conversations with the client. They also take care to remember details of conversations to encourage clients to return so they can follow up and please clients by having remembered.
There's lots that is expected outside of work hours as well. Looks are a huge part of the business, so self-grooming and care is where a lot of money will go. Having hair and makeup done is an extra cost, as well as to purchase outfits when not provided by the club. On top of that, hosts and hostesses must be well-versed in many topics, so that they can have many kinds of conversations no matter what their client wants to talk about or is interested in. In addition, purchasing presents for their loyal customers is not uncommon to show appreciation.
This attitude plays an essential role in the job requirements of a host or hostesses in Japan. After all, what they make (on top of a set salary) also depends on how many customers they manage to keep as “regulars” and how much the guests spend during their time together.
The host or hostess profession requires long hours of entertaining guests. Although drinking alcohol may not be necessarily "required", it is very rare for clubs to hire people who don’t have a somewhat high alcohol tolerance or can’t drink at all, as the point is for the guests to buy drinks to enjoy with the host or hostess, and employees often make commission based on the number of bottles the guests open in a night. This may lead to dealing with drunk customers, so knowing what to do in those situations is important. The work environment also includes possible exposure to cigarette smoke, loud noises, and bright lights.
Hosts and hostesses may also have "after" hours, which means spending time with customers outside of the club. This might mean dinners and dates and so on. This is up to the individual host or hostess, but many do it in order to secure loyal customers.
One needs to be at least 18 years old - however, as the legal drinking age in Japan is 20, anyone 18 or 19 must not drink. Thus many clubs may be stricter about hiring those under 20 years of age. On the other hand, keep in mind that most hosts and hostesses are in their early 20s, but there are still some hosts and hostesses in their 30s. It’s all about how one looks and presents themselves in this line of work. And one should have the legal right to be working such a job. More on that below.
The average annual compensation of a host or hostess greatly varies depending on your position in the club, the reputation of the club, the location and the type of clients. It’s hard to get exact data as the potential earnings are usually talking about big earners in the club.
One site says hostesses in Tokyo earn an average of 5 million yen per year (the highest amount on the list of locations), but again, the range widely varies based on your position as well.
First-timers usually start as “help”, people who assist the main host or hostess in making drinks and chatting with the guests. These people will be earning a lot less than the main hostess.
Some people are paid hourly or on a daily basis, while others get a monthly base salary plus commission. If a host or hostess gets regular customers - those that ask for them specifically - and their rank in the club rises, the higher their salary will be. These are the people who might make millions of yen monthly. However, it’s only a small handful of people who end up with the elite “number one” status that one often sees on tv and films and it takes a lot of work to get there. Many of them will, in turn, open their own establishment.
First and foremost, you must have the right kind of visa to do this kind of work. Not just anyone can work in these establishments. And of course, the people hired are mostly Japanese.
For foreigners, individuals with the following types of visa CANNOT legally work under at bars, clubs and the types of establishments mentioned in this article, not even as a dishwasher or non-service related part of the job:
Short-term Stay Visa
Working Holiday Visa
Any visa with specific designated activities, etc.
Basically you would have to have a visa that doesn’t restrict work activities.
(Do some people still work illegally? The reality is, yes. But they do so with the risk of having their visas rescinded and being deported, so it does come with high risk so it's definitely not recommended.)
To work in a typical Japanese host or hostess club, a certain level of Japanese is required - most of the time, conversational fluency at the minimum. One needs to be able to carry a conversation and entertain at the same time. However, depending on the club, this may not be as strict a requirement, but such clubs are rare and probably only found in bigger cities.
One possible advantage of being multilingual in addition to knowing Japanese is that there are sometimes foreigners who visit these clubs. Languages besides English that may come in handy are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and other Asian languages as there are many tourists from these regions as well as residents who speak these languages, especially in major cities.
The host and hostess entertainment industry is one of Japan's longest running. Both residents and tourists can take part in this unique nightlife experience - as long as one knows the rules, the warnings and the cost.
Here’s a great short documentary going more in depth about host clubs by Vice.